Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Transcription and History: Father Morris' Tune

A few months back I posted a couple tunes of Erskine playing from the 1990 Tape, one of which was this lonesome sounding D tune (the key is D modal strictly speaking) that comes from a relative of Erskine's who was the parish priest in Fox River. He called the tune simply, "Father Morris' Tune".

Click Here to see a transcription of Father Morris' Tune

Note: The violin is tuned ADAE for this tune (as well as most of the older Gaspe tunes Erskine and others played in the key of D).

Click Here to hear Father Morris' Tune

I was playing this tune tonight and thought it was a fairly simple tune to illustrate some of Erskine's seemingly complex bowing effects, so I wrote out a quick transcription for our fiddle playing readers.

In the transcription I did a while back for the Untitled Grondeuse, I mentioned that one of Erskine's most common syncopated bow licks is achieved by crossing strings and playing one of the lower strings quieter than the others. This is what creates the syncopated effect. Cyril Devouge would also use this effect. In the transcription, the note heads that have an x through them are meant to be played quieter then the other notes to create this effect.

Another characteristic of Erskine's Gaspé style is playing the same note repeatedly to fill out the space of a tune. He demonstrates this effect frequently in the high strain of the tune. Again, Cyril also made great use of this effect. In fact, Cyril is the one that really made me understand how these repeated notes as he puts it " sharpen the tunes up". He calls this effect "putting the little hooks in it" which is a great description and he will always stop and chastise me when I play his tunes for him and leave out these hooks.

Diane Sinnett, a Gaspesian reader responded to a request I put out there looking for information on Father Morris and photocopied and mailed a section of a book on the history of Fox River by Gaetan Plourde which had some historical information on Father Elias Morris. I'd like to thank Ms. Sinnett for taking the time to do this. Here are some facts gleaned from this book and the internet:

Father Elias Morris was born February 15 1856 in Douglastown to James Morris and Agnes Rooney. At the age of 17 he attracted the attention of his priest, Father Winter, who noted Elias' intelligence and voice and recommended the teenager study at the Seminary in Rimouski. What is amazing is that when he left Douglastown, he did not know a word of French. Nonetheless, he learned quickly and excelled in his studies.

Elias Morris was ordained a priest on June 5, 1884. For short periods he was a priest in the french communities of Grande-Rivière and Saint-Eloi before being named as parish priest in Fox River (Riviere-au-Renards) where there were sizable Irish and French populations in the 19th century.

He was known to have had a very good voice and been a great musician on the fiddle and piano. He was equally comfortable singing in French as in English and locals around Fox River recalled him singing the following songs:

"Ainsi toujours poussés vers de nouveaux rivage" (Le lac, Lamrtine)
"Présent des cieux, amitié pure et sainte" (L'amitié)
"Toute espérance, enfant, est un roseau"
"Just a year ago"
"Will you tell me, Molly darling"

He was well loved around Fox River and a town and river nearby were named in his honour, St-Maurice and the Morris River. We're not sure if the mispelling of his name was intentional for the town name, but it should be St. Morris though perhaps this was to get around the fact that Father Morris was not beatified. Instead, they may have used the beatified name of Maurice (which sounds the same as Morris in Canadian French) to get around this fact. Father Elias Morris passed away in 1936 at his older sister's house after becoming ill and progressively weaker.

If any of our readers out there have anything else they can share about the life of Father Morris, we would love to hear from you.

1. Gaetan Plourde, "Rivière-au-Renard: Centenaire"